Bob Love Speaks His Dream Bob Love has experienced life’s highs and lows - scaling the heights of professional basketball, and struggling for decades to deal with his stutter. Here he tells the story of his life and his greatest victory - gaining the fluency needed to become a public speaker. He demonstrated those skills ... Features
Features  |   May 01, 2004
Bob Love Speaks His Dream
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Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Fluency Disorders / Professional Issues & Training / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Features
Features   |   May 01, 2004
Bob Love Speaks His Dream
The ASHA Leader, May 2004, Vol. 9, 8-14. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.09092004.8
The ASHA Leader, May 2004, Vol. 9, 8-14. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.09092004.8
Bob Love has experienced life’s highs and lows - scaling the heights of professional basketball, and struggling for decades to deal with his stutter. Here he tells the story of his life and his greatest victory - gaining the fluency needed to become a public speaker. He demonstrated those skills at the 2003 ASHA Convention, when he received the coveted Annie Glenn Award.
As a child, what was the impact of your stutter?
At school the kids teased me unmercifully all day long. I would go home and get a basketball or football and take out my anger on the sports field.
I lived with my grandmother in Bastrup, LA, a little town near the Arkansas border. Often I would come home crying and my grandmother would meet me at the front gate there with an apron on. She would give me a big hug and kiss and said, “Son, there was only one perfect person to walk this earth. Everyone has a handicap. What you’ve got to do is have a dream.”
I’ve thought about her words all my life. Martin Luther King, Jr., also had a great influence on me, and he also had a dream. He was a nonviolent person and showed love to everyone. As I grew up, I tried never to hold anger in my heart. I have always tried to keep positive thoughts in my mind.
You went to college on an athletic scholarship. How did your stutter affect you in class?
It was difficult. I was afraid to ask a teacher a question because I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me. I had to figure out everything myself. My grade point average would have been higher if I’d been able to follow through with questions. But I survived, and did well on written exams.
Getting drafted into the NBA is a boy’s fantasy. How did it happen?
It was a dream come true. I was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in 1965. At that time there were only about eight teams in the league, and each team drafted about 1,000 players competing for only one or two spots. It was a fight every day.
Once I got into the league, though, I learned that people judge you on your ability to speak. Oscar Robinson, a great guard, took me under his wing. The Royals put me in the draft and he begged them not to trade me, but they told him I couldn’t talk. So I was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks and led in scoring in exhibition games. But two days before the season started, the general manager called me in and said I was being cut. He said my scoring didn’t matter, that I stuttered and would never be of any use to the team. I begged him to trade me. The next day I was traded to the Chicago Bulls, and that changed my life.
With the Bulls I led in scoring for seven straight years. Still I was never voted the star of the game, or given any speaking endorsements because of my stutter. I’d fall asleep and dream about Martin Luther King and John Kennedy, about being at a podium in front of thousands of people and having my words flow out like music. Those dreams and hopes kept me going.
Later, when I played with the Seattle Supersonics, I had to retire from a back re-injury and had another rude awakening. The doctors told me I needed an operation, and then said I would never walk again. I kept my hopes up, but my wife left me. She left a note saying she didn’t want to be married to a guy who couldn’t talk, and definitely not to a guy who was going to be crippled for the rest of his life. That was probably the most down moment of my life. It seemed like the world was coming to an end.
But no matter what’s happened in my life, I’ve had the ability to come back stronger. The next morning I put my cane and crutch down and started walking. My faith gave me the courage to do it.
Did you try to find a job?
Yes, Nordstrom’s they gave me a job washing dishes and busing tables for $4.45 an hour. I had to start at the bottom, despite having a college education and being an All-American All-Star and an All-Pro in sports, because I couldn’t talk. These were some of the most embarrassing, most humiliating days of my life.
Parents would bring their kids into the Nordstrom’s restaurant, and Bulls players and ex-players would come in. I wore a white apron and pushed a cart around. I could hear them whispering about me. “Wow, man, that’s Bob Love. He used to be a great player. What a shame…” When I heard them I would shake their hands, ask if there was anything I could do for them.
I tried to make customers feel good about themselves, and give good service. One day John Nordstrom, the head of the company, came by and said, “Bob, I’ve noticed you’re really doing a great job. The only problem is your speech.” He said the company would pay for my speech services. When he told me that, I felt like the weight of the world dropped off my shoulders.
How did you meet Susan Hamilton?
When I was working at Nordstrom’s, I rode the bus to work to downtown Seattle and passed a big gray building, the Speech and Hearing Center. I called there toward the end of the day, and Susan happened to answer the phone. I made an appointment and walked in and felt very comfortable with her.
She was great to work with. We would go over rate changes, continuous formation, and my breathing patterns. When I would go back to my old speech patterns, she would always encourage me. She refused to let me go back to my old ways.
What changes did you experience in your life after working with Susan?
My life completely changed. My progress was so rapid that the Chicago Bulls offered me a position as the director of community relations, which I never would have been able to do if I had been unable to speak. I do public speaking and have been on major TV shows and was able to get back into sports, a place where I belong. I never would have been able to return to the Bulls as director of community relations if I had been unable to speak. I ran for public office in Chicago. And now, when I talk, instead of people trying to avoid me or help me, they listen and respond. It’s just made a tremendous difference in my life.
A Clinical Perspective

by Susan Hamilton

At an evaluation in February 1986, Bob Love presented with a moderate severity rating according to the Riley Stuttering Severity Scale (1972). His stuttering was characterized by sound prolongations, partial word repetitions, and blocks. Eye contact was poor and he exhibited facial grimaces. Bob stated that his speech was much worse than this sample when speaking to authority figures, strangers, groups or when introducing one person to another. In addition, he indicated that his speech was generally better in familiar social situations.

He indicated that he was seeking treatment because his job opportunities at Nordstrom, where he worked in the restaurant division, hinged on an improvement in his speaking skills. He was successful at using the fluency shaping techniques of easy onset and continuous phonation after a model during a trial therapy portion of the evaluation.

Two months later Bob began speech therapy, with treatment based on an intensive schedule of one-hour sessions four days per week. He accomplished a great deal during this period. He learned about how his speech mechanism worked and was able to identify and describe his stuttering moments. He began to explore his feelings about his stuttering and how his thoughts affected these feelings and his fluency. In addition, we explored the reasons for the lack of eye contact and its impact on his overall communicative effectiveness.

Simultaneously, he began to utilize the fluency shaping techniques of easy onset, continuous phonation, and light articulation in a hierarchical manner beginning with vowels and continuing through slow to a natural rate of connected speech. He learned how to use cancellations to modify stuttering moments and we emphasized speech naturalness, especially at the levels of connected speech. After four weeks, Bob was ready to begin the process of transferring his newly acquired speech skills and attitudes to his daily activities, especially in the workplace.

The next six to nine months of treatment were devoted to transfer and generalization work. Bob learned self-evaluation skills during the establishment phases of treatment, and utilized these skills as he began to collect samples of his speech during daily activities. First, we created a functional hierarchy of speaking situations he regularly encountered, and ones in which he wanted to participate. During this phase, for example, Bob told me that his dream was to become a public speaker, so we added this to the list. We began with the easiest situations, role-playing them, and rating his anxiety levels and use of techniques. Then Bob entered speaking situations. He carried his tape recorder and informed his listener that he was a person who stuttered and who was receiving treatment, and asked permission to record his half of the conversation. Afterward, he would analyze the recordings and bring them to his next appointment so that we could critique them and chart future progress. Transfer assignments included making appointments for his children, speaking with his bosses, making presentations at work, making phone calls and speaking to university classes. Eventually Bob developed the confidence to make cold calls to get on the speaking circuit for local organizations. During this period, much time was also spent on effective self-talk and maintaining positive attitudes. Bob and his employers at Nordstrom wanted him to work on his dialect, so we added that to our therapy targets. Bob also participated in a support/practice group at my private practice.

Bob’s fluency improved so dramatically that his employers noticed, and he began to get requests for local speaking engagements. So, next, we worked to develop a speech to tell the story of his life.

A year after his first fluency evaluation, Bob’s wish came true. He was invited to be the keynote speaker at the NIC-10 All-Sports Banquet in Rockford, IL. I accompanied him to this engagement, and we practiced the speech all day before the event. Two hours before the event, we went to the banquet hall where he delivered a practice speech to me and the set-up crew. Three hours later, at the end of the real speech to an audience of 600, he received a standing ovation, even though his fluency was far from perfect. There were few dry eyes in the house.

The next year, Bob sporadically attended speech therapy for refresher sessions and to practice for upcoming events. In 1988 he received an Individual Achievement Award from the National Council on Communicative Disorders at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Former ABC-TV sports commentator Dick Shaap presented the award and soon Bob’s story appeared in many magazines and on broadcast news shows. The Stuttering Foundation of America named him the chairman for its 1993 National Stuttering Awareness Campaign.

At the ASHA Convention last fall in Chicago, I saw Bob receive the Annie Glenn Award. It was the first speech that I had seen him give in nearly 10 years. His fluency wasn’t perfect, but his message was. Bob Love isn’t allowing stuttering to hold him back from his dreams, and I feel privileged to have helped him along the way.

Susan Hamilton is a speech-language pathologist in private practice in Seattle, WA, a lecturer and clinical supervisor at the University of Washington, and a regular presenter for the Stuttering Foundation of America. Contact her by e-mail at

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May 2004
Volume 9, Issue 9